Schools are a common setting for bullying. It oftentimes takes place between two students, but can be committed by any person against any other person. Any bullying complaints, proceedings, and findings are governed by New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Act (the “Act”), N.J.S.A. 18A:37-13 to -32. In a recent case, S.G. v. Board of Education of the Hunterdon Central Regional School District, Hunterdon County, a New Jersey Appeals Court looked at bullying by a teacher against a student.
In 2014, a seasoned high school wrestling coach attended a camp run by the Rutgers University wrestling team coach. With 20 years of experience and a stipend position, the wrestling coach brought about 15 current or hopeful members of the wrestling team to attend the camp. This included R.F., a special education student. On two occasions, the coach said to R.F. that he hoped R.F. did not have access to any weapons or keys to the gun closet. These statements were made in the presence of others, causing R.F. to feel embarrassed – as if his coach thought he was crazy. R.F. called his parents and left soon after the coach’s remarks.
The school did an investigation of the coach’s actions after R.F.’s parents complained to the school. It looked at the Act and found that the coach’s behavior was “acts of harassment, intimidation and bullying” under the law. The school reported the finding to the school board, which voted to suspend the coach from all coaching activities. The board gave notice of its decision to R.F.’s parents and the coach.
The Act provides a number of minimum procedures that must be followed. The coach filed a complaint that his due process rights had been violated under the Act. The Act requires that,
[a]t a minimum[,] [the school or school board must] provide that the investigation will be initiated within one school day of the report of an HIB incident and the investigation will be “completed as soon as possible, but not later than 10 school days from the date of the written report of the incident of [HIB].
N.J.S.A. 18A:37- A-5199-15T315(b)(6)(a).
[p]arents or guardians are entitled to receive information about the investigation and can request a hearing before the Board, which must be held within ten days of the request.”
The Act frames these procedural rights to apply to students, giving the rights specifically to the parents or guardians and not solely to the students themselves. Nonetheless, the Acts applies to students and teachers alike. Since it gives the right to request a hearing that must take place within 10 days of the request to students, it similarly must afford the same right to teachers.
Here, the wrestling coach should have been given the right to request a hearing after the investigation into his actions first began, just as if he were a student, before the board made a decision about his coaching responsibilities. Because of this oversight, the coach was entitled for his case to be reheard before the board.
Angela Yu is a New Jersey and New York attorney with a multifaceted practice area focusing in corporate, real estate and general contract law. She uses her interest in real life application of the law to author articles and other scholarship on a broad range of cutting-edge legal and business topics. Ms. Yu is a published legal author and holds a J.D. and M.B.A. from Rutgers School of Law and Rutgers Business School. Neither she nor Mike Farhi provides legal advice on this website. This blog post and any blog posts do not constitute legal advice.